Condoms: your student essentials

Condoms might not immediately spring to mind as an essential shopping list item, but they help protect you from both sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy, so make them a key part of student life.

If you feel confident using condoms to help protect yourself, you can focus on you and your partner(s) enjoying sex.

Where can I get condoms?

Condoms: student essentialsCondoms are free from:

Many university health and welfare services offer free condoms so find out if yours does.

If you're under 25, you may be able to get condoms and lube from a C-Card scheme, widely available across England, Scotland and Wales. Places you might be able to register, include clinics, pharmacies, colleges and youth projects. C-Card schemes are also being piloted in Northern Ireland.

Come Correct provides free condoms in a variety of locations across London.

Depending where you're studying, you might be able to get free condoms by post.

NHS Choices has a useful directory of places you can get condoms for free.

You can also buy condoms from loads of places, including supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations and vending machines. Ordering them online can often give you a greater choice and a better price but make sure any condoms you order are from a trusted website (like Freedoms Shop), are within their use by date and have a CE mark.

Practice makes perfect

Condoms are really easy to use when you know how, but it can take some practice.

Used as contraception, they can be up to 98% effective (male condoms) and up to 95% effective (female condoms) at preventing pregnancy – but only if you use them according to instructions every time. If you don't use them correctly all the time then they're only around 82% effective (male condoms) and 79% effective (female condoms), so it's well worth getting it right.

And when you're sure about what you're doing you're less likely to throw caution to the wind and not use anything.

If you feel awkward handling or opening condoms, putting on male (external) condoms, or putting in female (internal) condoms, try practicing with them when you're on your own.

For men, ejaculating into condoms when masturbating can help you get used to the feeling of them.

Our guide answers lots of common questions about condoms.

What about pleasure?

We asked 2,000 people their views on condoms: almost one-fifth of 16-24-year-olds said they'd avoided using a condom because they don't like how they feel, and more than one-quarter said they enjoy sex less with a condom.

Since most sex happens for pleasure, not wanting to lessen your enjoyment is completely understandable, but condoms and pleasure are definitely not mutually exclusive.

To start with, knowing you're protected from STIs and pregnancy means you can relax and focus on the sex rather than worrying about the consequences.

Penis pleasure: finding the best size and shape of male condom for your penis can be a revelation, so experiment with as many different types as you can to help you find a more pleasurable fit. Get familiar with female condoms as well, as you may find you or a partner prefer them.

Vagina and vulva pleasure: Trying out different types and textures of male condoms can help you find ones that feel good inside the vagina. Practicing with them on a vibrator or dildo when masturbating can help you see what they feel like. Practice inserting female condoms too. One advantage of female condoms is that they can be inserted before sex and don't have to be removed immediately after. Alternatively, inserting them can be part of your foreplay.

Lube up: Although condoms are generally lubricated, finding a water-based lube you like can also help things go more smoothly and increase your enjoyment.

Oral sex: You can use male condoms to cover the penis or dams (soft latex or plastic squares) to cover the vulva or anus during oral sex – these come in a variety of flavours.

Read our tips on looking after yourself when you have sex.

More about STIs

STIs are infections which can be passed to another person through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex, by genital contact and through sharing sex toys.

If you're under 25 you're part of the age group most at risk of STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital warts and genital herpes.

It's possible to have an STI without any signs or symptoms. Our STIs support page has lots more information.

There are still a lot of myths and misconceptions about STIs and condom use. We've got the facts.